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From CTV News:

Older people with low levels of vitamin B12 in their blood may be more likely to develop problems with their thinking skills and have more brain shrinkage, a new study suggests. A growing body of research is drawing a link between low B12 and early cognitive decline, a condition that often leads to dementia.

Previous research has found that those people with high levels of vitamin B12 in their blood have lower levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which some studies have linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, memory loss, and stroke.

This new study looked at 121 people over the age of 65 in Chicago. Researchers analyzed their blood for levels of vitamin B12 and B12-related metabolites that can indicate a B12 deficiency. The participants also took tests measuring their memory and other cognitive skills.

After an average of four-and-a-half years, the researchers had the participants do the cognitive tests again. They also took MRI scans of the participants' brains to measure their total brain volume and look for other signs of brain damage. They found that having high levels of four of five markers for vitamin B12 deficiency was associated with having lower scores on the cognitive tests and smaller total brain volume.

On the cognitive tests, the scores ranged from -2.18 to 1.42, with an average of 0.23. For each increase of one micromole per liter of homocysteine, the cognitive scores decreased by 0.03 points.

The results appear in the journal Neurology.

According to Health Canada, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms. More information can be found on the Health Canada website.

Interestingly, the concentrations of all vitamin B12–related markers were linked with better cognitive test scores and higher total brain volume -- but not the blood levels of vitamin B12 itself.

Study co-author Dr. Martha Clare Morris, of Rush University Medical Center, said low vitamin B12 can be difficult to detect in older people when looking only at blood levels of the vitamin. "Looking for vitamin B12 in blood not a good marker," she told CTV News. "We need to have better clinical measures to identify people who have marginal or low vitamin B status."

She said doctors should be testing instead for homocysteine levels. She also said there wasn't enough evidence yet to recommend that all seniors take the vitamin in supplement form.

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